If you work on a remote team, there’s a good chance you’ve struggled with managing time zones.
With coworkers and subscribers spread all over the world, it can be hard to keep track of what time it is where your colleagues are. Even if you’re not working remote, it’s easier than ever to end up doing business with someone in a different time zone. As our world becomes more connected, our differences in time zones become even more important to manage and understand.
Here at I Done This, we face this challenge daily. We’re a small team dispersed across 3 different continents. The work day is finishing up for some of us just as it’s getting started for others, which is why asynchronous communication is so important. There’s only a short window of time for us to communicate in real time and that window is critical to our productivity.
Here’s a look at some of our favorite tools for managing time zone differences.
If you’re one of the 3 million people using Slack every day, Slack bot Spacetime.am might be the perfect tool for your team. Team members can add their location and set their work hours so that you can see who is online and when. Spacetime.am also lets you schedule meetings and will automatically change the time, so the receiver will see it in their own time zone.
Even when you’re “off-duty” and away from work in the evening, it can be tempting to check email when you see even one notification come up. Boomerang works inside Gmail to help you schedule emails to go out at specific times—so you’re not pinging co-workers with non-urgent matters when they’re about to go to sleep.
This Slack bot automatically converts time zones within Slack messages—so you don’t even have to check a separate app to make sure everything’s been scheduled correctly. By starting a message with “/time” the tool will automatically convert the time you specify to each individual’s own time. For example, if you are typing “/time Call me at 11am,” your message will read, “Call me at 11am (08:00 PST, 11:00 EST),” if your team is distributed between the West Coast and the East Coast.
Who said tracking time zones couldn’t be beautiful? Every Time Zone makes it easy to visualize what time it is in, like the name says, every time zone in the world. The clever slider tool lets you see how a time in one place corresponds to everywhere else. This is very handy if you have two or more time zones to coordinate.
Scheduling meetings with three people in three different time zones doesn’t have to involve mental math. The World Clock Meeting Planner from Timeanddate.com lets users plug in a day and their location, allowing the tool to generate different times that might work for meetings. It then color-codes them into working hours, non-working hours and sleep hours.
Meeting Planner App (iOS)
If you tend to be mobile-heavy when it comes to calendars, you need to centralize your team’s time zones on your phone, as well. The Meeting Planner App from Timeanddate.com has a beautiful interface that uses stop light colors to denote when members are available. Green means working hours, yellow means non-working hours, and red means sleeping hours. All you have to do is add the cities, select the date, select the best time, and share the meeting in the app.
Exactly what it says, nothing more. This simple tool tells you what time it is in whatever city you type in. Try it for those odd destinations when you’re not sure what time it is in a certain part of the world.
World Time Buddy bills itself as a “a cross between a time zone converter, a world clock converter, and an online meeting scheduler.” Plug in several locations in the tool and they’ll load up next time you visit the site. A color-coding system helps you see where business hours overlay in each time zone.
Time zone management meets beautiful design. Time.is displays the official atomic clock time for any time zone along with a set of bright and useful graphics. The tool also tells you if your computer’s clock is off of the official time and by how much.
If you have an iPhone and want to keep things simple, just preload some locations into the world clock tool in iOS. The system comes preloaded with Cupertino time, but you can easily add your time and whatever other time zones you might need to track.
24 Time Zones provides a colorful interactive map of the world. You can easily see where it’s currently daytime and nighttime. And you also can click on different cities on to see times in other locations.
One of the best things you can do when managing time zones is learn what the common abbreviations are, or at least know how to look them up. This site lists all of the time zone abbreviations and where they are. You too can know the difference between Irish Standard Time and Irkutsk Summer Time.
If you’re using Google to manage your calendar, here’s a time zone trick. From your main calendar page, hit the ‘s’ key to enter settings and you’ll see an option to set your time zone along with an additional time zone. You can add any time zone you need there. So now your calendar will show the time of the day along with the corresponding times for a second time zone. It’s very helpful if you regularly collaborate with someone in a different zone, like New York or Los Angeles.
Miranda is a beautiful iOS app that converts time zones and helps you find the best time to schedule a meeting across different time zones. It includes an interactive world map and the ability to schedule meetings from the app and share via email.
If you’re using a program like TextExpander, try writing a snippet that spits out the times in multiple zones once you type out a time. Here’s a handy blog post explaining how to do it.
Here’s another Slack bot from Alisdair McDiarmid, an engineer at Customer.io. Team Time Zone keeps track of time zones for a remote team. The easy interface shows where everyone is, and what time it is for them.
Want to really know the nitty gritty on time zones? Check out this great interactive presentation from BBC News. You can learn all the idiosyncrasies in the time zone system, how to tell time in space (perhaps the future of remote work!) and the origin story of GMT.
Put it in your email and social media signatures
We probably all would be shocked to learn the true number of “By the way, what time zone are you in?” emails that are sent every day. Try putting your time zone in the signature of your emails and the bio section of your social media profiles. That’s one less useless category of email you’ll have to deal with.
Just get everyone on UTC
Some teams have avoided the time zone drama altogether by simply getting everyone on 24 hour UTC/GMT time. It’s an admirable endeavor, but will definitely take some getting used to. But, like any of these tools, you can make it a helpful part of your regular workflow. Just give it time.
BONUS: I Done This
Sometimes, no matter what tools you use, your time zones simply won’t sync up. For the times when your Europe colleagues are asleep and you’re hacking away, there’s I Done This. We use (and build) the tool to let you communicate asynchronously with your colleagues. You can leave messages and feedback that they won’t feel compelled to respond to right away.
P.S. If you like this topic and want even more tips on remote productivity, download our eBook The Comprehensive Guide to Remote Working. And if you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.
This refreshed post was originally written in August of 2015, but has been updated to include even more tools for managing time zone differences.